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‘Not A Lot Of Separation There’: Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception Has Some Concerning Numbers For George Pickens

Throughout the 2022 season, then-rookie wide receiver George Pickens was a walking, talking highlight reel for the Pittsburgh Steelers in an offense that really struggled to generate much explosion or highlights overall.

Pickens, a second-round pick at No. 52 overall, burst onto the scene, putting together a remarkable training camp and preseason, leading to a rather strong rookie season overall. The former Georgia star finished with 52 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns in his first NFL season.

Based on his play in 2022, the sky is the limit for the 6-3, 200-pounder, especially in an offense in Pittsburgh with playmakers everywhere and a developing young quarterback in Kenny Pickett.

However, for Yahoo Sports’ Matt Harmon, who does a fantastic job with his Reception Perception charting routes run and success rate for every NFL receiver, there are some very concerning numbers for Pickens moving forward.

Based on the tweet above, Pickens ran a nine (go), corner, post, out or dig route 59.5% of the time as a rookie in 2022. That’s a remarkably basic route tree overall, which remains a real concern in Matt Canada’s offense moving forward. Granted, Pickens had quite a bit of success on those routes overall, but the real concern is the lack of separation and success for Pickens on basic NFL routes, like the slant, curl and comeback.

“If you’re looking to explain away Pickens’ poor success rates, you can point to the incredibly vertical nature of his route. He ran a nine on a whopping 32.4% of his sampled routes. That is nuts,” Harmon writes in Reception Perception. “Anything over 30% is borderline unreasonable. When you also add that he ran a corner on nearly 10% of his routes, it’s really wild how the Steelers didn’t add more diversity to his route tree.

“Pickens got next to no work going over the middle. The slant, dig and post made up less than a quarter of his routes. You almost never see this at the NFL level.”

According to Harmon’s charting (which you can read here with a subscription), Pickens ran 40.8% of his routes against man coverage last season, recording a success rate of 64.9%, which was in the 34th percentile in the league. Not great.

Against zone coverage, Pickens ran 59.2% of his routes, with a 68.3% success rate, which was in the fifth percentile, which is even worse. Against man and zone, Pickens saw press coverage 21.3% of the time and had success 72.4% of the time, which was good for the 69th percentile and checks out with Pickens’ profile as that big, physical receiver.

One thing that we spoke heavily about Pickens throughout his rookie year and even during the pre-draft process was his need to become a more nuanced route runner, as he often relied on his sheer athletic talent to win combative catches rather than generating separation from coverage.

That was the case throughout his rookie season, and Harmon’s charting lines up with that belief.

The success rates are rather concerning for Pickens overall, as is the limited route tree. He profiles as an old-school X receiver who thrives in contested-catch situations, but typically receivers who don’t create much separation on the most basic routes struggle to be impactful long term.

Granted, it’s a small sample size and the offensive design under Canada does him no favors, but based on his 2022 season, Pickens profiles as more of a DeVante Parker/Kenny Golladay type, rather than a dominate true No. 1 like a Davante Adams. To really tap into his potential, Pickens has to become a better route runner, plain and simple.

Good news is, he’s putting in that work to become a better route runner. Sharing a receiver room with the likes of Diontae Johnson and Allen Robinson II — two high-end route runners in the NFL — won’t hurt, either.

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